Whitesburg KY

Plan upsets Letcher board

Supt. Anna Craft is not happy that House Speaker Greg Stumbo has suggested using school districts’ contingency funds to help balance the 2010-2012 state budget. Craft told members of the Letcher County Board of Education at its October meeting that people should contact their state representatives and state senator and urge them not to take money from districts’ contingency funds. The Letcher County School District currently has $1,041,317.72 in its contingency fund.

“There are purposes for which school boards try to save a little bit of money for a project and this time people are trying to save to be able to make their payroll for next year,” said Craft. “I would urge you to talk to Rep. (Ancel) Smith, Rep. (Leslie) Combs and Sen. (Johnny Ray) Turner. Urge them to not allow anything of that sort.”

Craft said in addition to using a contingency fund to to pay for projects such as Letcher County Central High School, it is used to help pay employees during the beginning of the school year.

“What a lot of people don’t really think about is we have to have enough money to meet our first payroll and a lot of it goes to that to be able to function until money is given out,” said Craft.

Craft doesn’t think dipping into contingency funds will solve the state’s budget problems.

“There is no way they can take contingency to make it equal across the state,” said Craft. “It’s like they are penalizing us for being a good steward of public money. So we’re not very happy about that.”

Board Chairman Will Smith said state law requires a school district to have two percent of its budget in a contingency fund and Craft said the Kentucky Department of Education recommends five percent.

“I went to the courthouse Friday to see Sen. Turner and he was already gone when I got there,” said Smith. “I was going to talk to him about it and ask him if Stumbo has lost his mind.”

Stumbo, a Prestonsburg

Democrat, told The Courier-Journal

in an interview last week that he has discussed the issue with Gov. Steve Beshear, who did not indicate his position.

“We do have a bunch of money that the schools have saved in their budgets, their ‘rainy day’ funds,” Stumbo said. “And there’s a pretty good sum of money there which will help us get through.”

Various estimates say the funds contain hundreds of millions of dollars.

School officials say they are strongly opposed to the idea because they need those funds to balance their own budgets during tight economic times.

A preliminary state revenue forecast this week predicted a $161 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, which ends next June 30. The outlook looks worse for 2010- 12.

Brad Hughes, spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said any effort to tap the contingency funds would be unfair to districts that have prudently saved more. He said such a move could be illegal because contingency funds include money raised with local taxes.

“But the most obvious concern of school districts is what happens if they get hit in the middle of the year with something like a major heating and cooling problem or something like that could cost $50,000 to $100,000,” Hughes said.

Tom Shelton, superintendent of the Daviess County school system, who has studied the issue, estimated that the contingency funds of all districts total $300 million to $400 million.

Mary Lassiter, the state budget director who also is secretary of Beshear’s executive cabinet, said Friday she does not believe school contingency funds have ever been tapped in a state budget crisis.

“Clearly it’s going to be a very, very difficult budget,” Lassiter said.

Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, did not respond to requests to discuss the state’s budget outlook.

Bob Leeper, a Paducah Independent who chairs the Senate budget committee, said he does not believe the committee has ever considered the matter. He said he would need more information before commenting.

The predicted $161 million gap for the fiscal year came on top of one that totaled nearly $1 billion, which the legislature dealt with during a special session in January, largely by using federal stimulus funds.

The outlook worsens in the 2010-12 budget, when the stimulus money goes away.

Both Stumbo and Beshear said they do not believe taxes should be increased during the current recession, and both said school funding will be the top priority in any decisions to balance the current or upcoming budgets.

Stumbo said tapping district contingency funds would not be necessary during the current fiscal year. But given the dismal budget outlook, the move “is on the table” when the 2010-12 budget is considered.

He noted the process of trying to apply reserve funds of districts to ease the state budget gap would not be simple. “Some districts have designated uses for (part of their contingency funds). So we’ll just have to literally go through that district by district,” said Stumbo.

In other business, Craft commended the maintenance department and custodial staff for their continuous efforts in sanitizing and cleaning all schools in the district during flu season.

“Even with our best efforts, our flu situation is like a roller coaster,” said Craft. “It goes up and down. Everyone needs to thank our custodial staff. They are working a lot of hours. They don’t complain. I really appreciate it.”

Kenneth Cornett, director of pupil personnel, said the district attendance rate as of Sept. 30 was 91.84. Cornett said the attendance worsened in October.

“We’re holding our own and we’re doing the best we can,” said Cornett. “We are doing whatever is needed to keep school going.”

The board also:

• named Gary Sturgill, a teacher at Cowan Elementary School, employee of the month.

• approved naming a bridge at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School in honor of Edsel Lewis, a Letcher County veteran and a brother of former Letcher County Board of Education member Bill Lewis. The naming of the bridge was requested by the Veterans Organization of Letcher County.

• approved the Letcher County Central High School senior class trip to Washington D.C. and New York on April 3- 9.

• approved the following overnight trips: LCCHS volleyball team will participate in the state tournament in Northern Kentucky Oct. 29- 31; LCCHS all-state choir will perform in Morehead Nov. 9-10; and LCCHS basketball will participate in tournaments in Frankfort Dec. 4 -5, Paris Dec. 26- 29, Lexington Jan. 9-10, and Mt. Sterling Jan. 15- 16.

• approved the emergency school closing committee which includes Craft, Kenneth Cornett, Twyla Messer, Terry Sturgill, Tex Isaac, Ronald Hensley, Gerald Smith, Arlie Lee, Timothy Coleman, Gary Pridemore, Lester Cornett, Christopher Hogue and Randy Bailey.

• approved up to $1,000 in reimbursement of expenses for the LCCHS golf and volleyball teams, which both reached state level competition. The golf team participated in the state tournament Oct. 4- 6 in Bowling Green. The volleyball team will participate in the state tournament Oct. 30-31 at Northern Kentucky University.

“I just hope that everyone can go to our volleyball game in Northern Kentucky on Friday,” said Craft.

• approved dividing the wrestling coaching staff salaries so that the head coach will receive $2,750, assistant coach will get $1,250 and the other assistant coach will get $500.

• approved a service agreement with Focused Fitness to provide training and curriculum for implementation of a Physical Education Program (PEP) grant.

In the superintendent’s personnel report:

• approved two resignations: Clifford Wade Fields, a districtwide bus monitor, and Cecelia Lynn Hampton, an instructional assistant II.

• approved the retirement of Ben Hall, a custodian at West Whitesburg Elementary School.

• Linda Adams, an instructional assistant at West Whitesburg Elementary School, was suspended without pay until further notice.

• approved the classified employment of Leslie Johnson, an instructional assistant I, at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School.

• approved the classified transfer of Lela Back from a custodian/ lunchroom monitor at WWES to a custodian at WWES. Milette McCray transferred from an instructional assistant II at the Letcher County Education Center to an elementary secretary at the education center.

Some of the information used in

this report was gathered by The Associated


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